November 2001

News

A Flood in Genomics

A Flood in Genomics

Nine months have passed since draft sequences of the human genome were first published.1,2 One human gestation period later, the genome, as deciphered by the International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium, still screams toward its projected Spring 2003 finish date. "The trajectory we're on for meeting that goal is precisely on target," assures Francis Collins, director, National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) and spokesperson for the largest public biological science project in histor

Debate Continues Over Partial Reproductive Isolation

Debate Continues Over Partial Reproductive Isolation

Last year, scientists described how partial reproductive isolation between two sockeye salmon populations had evolved at the astonishingly rapid rate of about 13 generations. This was stunning to many biologists, who think of reproductive isolation as a process that evolves over tens of thousands, or even millions of years, but certainly not decades.1 Researchers led by Andrew Hendry, a postdoctoral scientist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, used microsatellite markers and morphologi

A Personal View of Genomics

A Personal View of Genomics

It wasn't easy getting to the 4th International Meeting on Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms and Complex Genome Analysis held Oct. 10-15 at the Wenner-Gren Foundation in Stockholm. A week earlier, as flight cancellations continued in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, SwissAir had declared bankruptcy and an SAS jet had crashed in Milan, further disrupting schedules. So it was little surprise that several speakers had to phone in their talks. But not J. Craig Venter, president and chief sc

Speeding up the Evolutionary Process

Speeding up the Evolutionary Process

From TV dinners to computers, improving speed and efficiency are deemed the true hallmarks of progress. The same tenet holds true in science: Why wait thousands of years for nature to do its work when it can be done in a few months? This is the concept behind the new biotech firm Morphotek. Using a patented technology platform called morphogenics, the company has given evolution's normal crawling pace a rocket-powered backpack. Philadelphia-based Morphotek creates genetically altered host orga

Deciphering Protein Evolution

Deciphering Protein Evolution

One of the enduring questions in biology is how eukaryotic cells arose from prokaryotic ancestors at least 2 billion years ago. Besides differences in genome organization, eukaryotic animals, plants, and fungi possess a much higher degree of cellular compartmentation in the form of membrane bound organelles than their distant bacterial and Archaean cousins. But how did such a plethora of cellular domains, each with a discrete role in metabolism, evolve? To the extent that science proves anythi

News Notes

News Notes

The National Institutes of Health is now accepting applications for grants in embryonic stem cell research after unveiling its Web-based Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry (http://escr.nih.gov/). About a handful of applications have been received so far; the first awards should be announced in early 2002. This registry lists names and contact information for 11 worldwide organizations offering 72 cell lines that meet the federal funding requirements outlined by President George W. Bush in August

Commentary

Predicting Biowarfare Agents Takes on Priority

Predicting Biowarfare Agents Takes on Priority

The recent targeting of individuals and groups with the anthrax bacterium (Bacillus anthracis) has heightened the concern of the global community to bioterrorism. Unfortunately, the particular anthrax threat, and the responses discussed publicly, represent the tip of the iceberg. The anthrax bacterium cannot be transmitted through casual contact and is susceptible to antibiotics. In general, methods for anthrax prevention, detection, and treatment exist. Of far greater concern are readily transm

Letter

What Scientists Can Do

What Scientists Can Do

On Sept. 11, did you feel as you wanted to help, but could not, as you were numb? I sat bleary-eyed in front of the TV, despite being a professor of epidemiology. I did not know what I could do. Perhaps the best approach we as scientists can take is the building of a global scientist Civil Defense. About two weeks before Sept. 11, my colleagues and I published in the Lancet an article suggesting that the public health and scientific systems guarding against a terrorist attack were in adequate.

Peer Review

Peer Review

We continue to fret about peer review.1 But with the abundance of journals in every field today, just about anything that has a bit of novelty in it can get published somewhere if the authors persist. What is more important than good peer review is critical reading of articles no matter where they are published. The fact that an article makes it to print should not cause us to lower our analytical senses when attempting to build on the information provided in that article regardless of the perce

Cartoon

Cartoon

Cartoon

Sidney Harriswww.ScienceCartoonsPlus.com

Research

Music, the Brain, and Williams Syndrome

Music, the Brain, and Williams Syndrome

Gloria Lenhoff is a 46-year-old lyric soprano singer who has performed with such diverse groups as the San Diego Master Chorale and members of Aerosmith. She can sing nearly 2,500 songs in more than 25 languages, reportedly in a perfect accent. She even has perfect pitch. But the rest of her world is not perfect. Gloria is affected by a rare genetic disorder called Williams syndrome. With an IQ of about 55, Gloria literally cannot subtract three from five or make change for a dollar. But what

The Promise that Haplotypes Hold

The Promise that Haplotypes Hold

Sifting through the 3 billion letters of DNA that comprise the human genome to find disease-associated sequences is at best a daunting task. But recent evidence suggests that this genome is organized into highly structured blocks called haplotypes, highly conserved packages that contain SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) and exhibit very little genotypic variation. Enlisting these haplotypes in the search may make this undertaking easier than previously thought. Evidence of such organizati

Saving Lives Past the Emergency Room

Saving Lives Past the Emergency Room

For people who have suffered a massive traumatic injury--from a car crash, building collapse, or other life-threatening event--modern health care is paradoxical in nature. While the emergency room is successful in prolonging lives, it is the body's system failures that eventually kill trauma patients. "If you look at the successes that medicine has had in our ability to capture individuals immediately after trauma, to resuscitate them, get them to the emergency room, we've been remarkably succes

Research Notes

Research Notes

Does the brain have a center of consciousness? Until now, the prevailing opinion has been that anesthetics and other agents of unconsciousness act widely across the cerebral cortex and spinal cord. But a new finding suggests the existence of a barbiturate-sensitive switch (M. Devor, et al., "Reversible analgesia, atonia, and loss of consciousness on bilateral intracerebral microinjection of pentobarbital," Pain, 94:101-12, October 2001). Using barbiturate microinjections, Hebrew University of Je

Hot Paper

Chromosome 22 Provides Human Genome Preview

Chromosome 22 Provides Human Genome Preview

For this article, Laura DeFrancesco interviewed Ian Dunham, senior research fellow at the Sanger Centre, Welcome Trust, UK; Bruce Roe, a research professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Oklahoma; and Michio Hirano, Florence Irving assistant professor of neurology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Data from the Web of Science (ISI, Philadelphia) show that Hot Papers are cited 50 to 100 times more often than the average paper of the same type and age.

Technology

Counting the Dead...Faster

Counting the Dead...Faster

Apoptosis, or programmed cell death, is a hot topic. In this publication alone, more than 14 articles mentioning apoptosis have been published within the past year. It is therefore little wonder that new kits for apoptosis detection seem to be introduced on a daily basis. One of the most popular methods for detecting apoptosis is the caspase activity assay. Caspases are cellular enzymes that, when activated, initiate a proteolytic cascade that ultimately leads to apoptosis; caspases are thus use

Merging Microplates and Microarrays

Merging Microplates and Microarrays

Several companies offer arrays printed in microplate wells,1 but Tucson, Ariz.-based High Throughput Genomics Inc. (HTG) is the first to allow processing of small samples in the microplates prior to analysis. The result is "higher sensitivity and reproducibility," says HTG's CEO and president Bruce Seligmann, making the technology ideal for target gene validation or drug dose response profiling. Scientists can use HTG's Multiplexed Molecular Profiling (MMP) technology to assess protein functio

Perfecting Transfection

Perfecting Transfection

Transfection, the delivery of DNA into a eukaryotic cell, is now the standard methodology for studying gene expression and function. Scientists can transfect both primary cells--those derived directly from the body--and cultured cells, but primary cells are more accurate models of a given cell type than their cultured counterparts are. Researchers traditionally transfect primary cells using viral technologies, which can be expensive and complicated to use, but amaxa of Cologne, Germany, has deve

Technology Profile

Assessing Differential Gene Expression

Assessing Differential Gene Expression

As the complete human genome sequence emerges, research shifts from questions of genomics to those of proteomics--determining the function of individual gene products and mapping global gene expression patterns. Gene expression patterns change continually during the course of tissue development and differentiation. The expression of different gene products at any given time within a particular cell defines the cell's characteristics and helps determine how it will react to external stimuli. Alte

Desktop Sequence Analysis Software

Desktop Sequence Analysis Software

Few biological fields have benefited from technological advances as much as genomics. The field could not be where it is today without progress in automated sequencing methods and in software to interpret, annotate, and manage the voluminous data that these automated sequencers churn out. Without this latter development, researchers would be hard pressed to read and understand these gigabytes of data--the equivalent of having an encrypted encyclopedia without a deciphering key. (See related sto

Profession

Transforming Scientists into Managers

Transforming Scientists into Managers

A year in management overwhelmed microbiologist Dennis J. Henner, and he retreated to the bench. The time was the mid-1980s. The company: Genentech Inc. in South San Francisco, a biotechnology pioneer that had vowed to make recombinant DNA technology a commercial success. The young bench scientist scaled the career ladder by steering a team of company scientists. But after only a year as a department manager, he decided he had his fill of leadership. "One, I wasn't ready. I was more focused on

The Science of Collaboration

The Science of Collaboration

Time has turned one wall in Robert Weinberg's office at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research into a family photo gallery. Across the room, a tangle of tropical plants has grown as thick as the record of his 20 years of collaborative research. Weinberg, a world-renowned biologist and cancer researcher, was a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor in 1982 when David Baltimore, the Whitehead's first director, asked him to become a founding member of the fledgling institute in Ca

Climbing the Money Tree

Climbing the Money Tree

Venture capitalist Brenda Gavin offers simple advice to life science inventors seeking funding for new projects: Be clear, brief, and persistent. "You've got to call more than once," Gavin, president of SR One, a GlaxoSmithKline venture fund, exhorted participants at a venture forum sponsored by Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) in October. Gavin said she gets about 25 calls a day. "Don't spend the voice mail talking, and if I have to play my voice mail 15 times to get your message, I'm

Profession Notes

Profession Notes

Researchers can save time and reduce the number of rats sacrificed for toxicity studies by using cell lines, according to a National Toxicology Program official. One human and one mouse cell line tested in Europe show high correlations between lethality in the cell lines and in animals, explains William Stokes, director of the NTP Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods. That center recently released the "Report of the International Workshop on In Vitro Methods

Funding Opportunites in the Life Sciences

Funding Opportunites in the Life Sciences

Click to view our current database of Funding Opportunites in the Life Sciences.

Opinion

Why We Say It With Flowers

Why We Say It With Flowers

Like everybody else, I blanched at the horror of Sept. 11. But ever since, I've been asking myself what might seem like a trite question in light of the tragedy. In a way I guess I'm trying to extract my own brand of meaning from the rubble. Here goes: Why did so many people reach out to firefighters and their lost comrades following the Twin Towers disaster, by solemnly laying blossoms at the firehouse door? For that matter, why did the British heap flowers in front of Buckingham Palace when a